How taking a few deep breaths can sometimes reduce the impact of migraine
Those living with migraine will try almost any combination of medications to find relief from the pain. But what if there was a treatment option that didn’t involve any pills at all? Research has shown that those who incorporate mindfulness and meditation into their daily routines have lower stress and fewer headaches than those who don’t. As a result, many professionals are advocating for complementary treatment options that focus on mindfulness and meditation.
A 2014 study in the journal Headache found that people who practiced meditation had about 1.4 fewer migraines per month. For those who suffer from chronic migraine, the reduction is significant—and they headaches were less severe, lasting about three hours less per headache than a group that did not meditate. The researchers from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center who conducted the study assigned participants to an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program (MBSR), which includes meditation for half an hour each day.
Dr. Kabat-Zinn, director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, found that patients who performed mindfulness regularly for eight weeks reported taking less pain medication, a reduction in feelings of stress and anxiety, and feeling better overall.
Another study by the Global Journal of Health Science titled ‘The Effectiveness of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on Perceived Pain Intensity and Quality of Life in Patients With Chronic Headache’ found similar results. The study aimed to determine the effectiveness of MBSR on perceived pain intensity and quality of life in patients with chronic headache. At the end of the eight-week period, medical symptoms were down 28-percent, anxiety was down 44-percent, and depression decreased by 34-percent. While MBSR did not eliminate migraine altogether, it did significantly reduce pain.
Headaches are some of the most common complaints neurologists hear, and migraine or tension headaches are the most common type. Mindfulness and meditation is a simple solution to ease the pain and frequency of migraine attacks, and one with massive benefits. Still, many people are lost when it comes to practicing mindfulness. How do you even begin?
How to Practice Mindfulness and Meditation
To reap the benefits of meditation, incorporate the practice into your everyday life.
First, you’ll have to set aside some time. Try to find 30 minutes each day and build those minutes into your daily routine. Maybe when you first wake up before the day gets away from you, on your lunch break, or before bed each night. Set a timer so you’re not constantly checking the clock.
The point of mindfulness is not to have a completely blank mind, but to pay attention to the present. Sit comfortably, either crossing your legs or sitting in a chair with both feet on the ground, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. To get yourself into the moment it can help to count to eight as you breathe in and out.
To-do lists, work projects, what you’re going to make for dinner, whether you’re meditating correctly, and other distracting thoughts will drift into your mind. Instead of getting frustrated, recognize that your mind has wandered and go back to counting your breaths. It can help to pay attention to how your body feels while breathing. Focus on the air filling up your lungs, the rise and fall of your chest, and how the air feels moving in through your nose and out through your mouth. After your 30 minutes are up, take a moment to observe how relaxed you feel.
Finding 30 minutes each day isn’t always easy, but don’t let that stand in your way. Even practicing for 10 minutes when you have time is beneficial, and you can incorporate mindfulness into activities like eating, walking, or driving if you slow down and really pay attention to what you’re doing and how it feels.
The most important thing to remember is that like all things, practice makes perfect, and meditation gets easier with time. Some days will be easier than others, so keep at it and know that by breathing deeply and paying attention to the present moment, you’re helping stave off those migraine symptoms and reduce pain.
Reviewed for accuracy by the American Migraine Foundation’s subject matter experts, headache specialists and medical advisers with deep knowledge and training in headache medicine. Click here to read about our editorial board members.